Meals Ready to Eat (MREs)
Meals Reasy to Eat, or MREs, are military rations designed for soldiers who are away from organized food service facilities. They are a complete meal contained in a single package. A single meal provides about 1250 calories (per mreinfo.com).
Contents generally include an entree, a chemical heater, a main side dish (e.g. applesauce), a package of seasonings and accessories (salt, pepper, gum, matches, tobasco, etc), and usually some sides such as cheese and crackers and M&Ms.
MREs are widely available through military surplus stores, hunting and outdoor websites, and eBay. Because they are portable and require nothing more than water to prepare, MREs should be considered as a meal option for the hiker/climber/backpacker.
The primary feature of the MRE that should be of interest to the outdoorsman is the chemical heater. The MRE meal is placed inside a pouch containing the heater, and once water is added the heater gets very hot and heats the meal usually within 5 minutes. No stove is required, and no flame is produced (no fire hazard).
MREs have become surprisingly palatable since my days in the Army in the late 90s. Gone are the terrifying Frankfurters Beef, soilent green-esque Ham Slice, and the alien Omelet with Ham. The current lots have 24 different entrees including Chicken and Dumplings, Spicy Penne Pasta, and Beef Ravioli. Chicken and Rice will be missed however, it's a shame to see that missing from the current menus.
I've been eating MREs for 11 years, and when you are out there humping a pack for 15 miles, it's some pretty good chow. This is not for the backpacker gourmet who takes pride in preparing quality field chow, but should be considered by any backpacker who wants a hot meal that isn't dehydrated and doesn't want to hassle with a stove.
I usually pack 2 MREs per day for a full day (breakfast and dinner) and eat snacks for lunch, or just one MRE for an entry or exit day. The key is to open the MREs ahead of time and take only what you want. Most MREs are full of extra items that you will probably never eat, and there is a large amount of extra packaging that is fine when you are storing your MRE in the back of your HUMVEE, but not so good for a cramped backpack. Removing and tossing that excess reduces the weight and space requirements considerably.
Because MREs are not dehydrated they do weigh more than other meals, so they are probably not appropriate for very long trips. I've used them for as many as 4 days in a row, carrying six meals without much problem.
I'm giving MREs 5 stars, although this can depend on which entree you get. If you have never tried one, or had one a long time ago and thought it was terrible, try one of the new ones. They have gotten much more tasty, and you can't beat the convenience. If they are good enough for our boys and girls overseas, then they are are certainly good enough for me a few times per year.